Friday, October 18, 2019

A MONSTERGRRLS HALLOWEEN SPECIAL: STEPHEN KING'S CHRISTINE By John Rose

A MonsterGrrls Halloween Special
It wouldn’t be Halloween without a few extra treats and surprises, so in this spirit we present an extra post for the season, A MonsterGrrls Halloween Special. Here we examine the Stephen King novel and John Carpenter film, Christine.

Cars, and their relationships with humans, are not exempt from speculative fiction. From the 1944 sci-fi story “Killdozer!” by Theodore Sturgeon, to the Twilight Zone episodes “You Drive” (1964 original series) and “Joy Ride” (1987 revival series), to sentient racing Volkswagen Herbie in Disney’s The Love Bug, to the 1977 horror film The Car, vehicles possessed by otherworldly forces, whether malign or benevolent, are a well-known trope in speculative fiction. Which brings us to Christine, both a 1983 horror novel by Stephen King, and a horror film of the same year by John Carpenter.

The book
King had dealt with the idea of sentient homicidal vehicles before in his 1973 short story “Trucks” (which eventually became his one foray into film directing, 1986’s Maximum Overdrive) but in Christine he went whole-hog, or full-custom as the case may be. The novel concerns one Arnie Cunningham, a put-upon and lonely teen whose one friend is the comparatively normal Dennis Guilder, who also narrates the story. Spotting a dilapidated 1958 Plymouth Fury while riding home with Dennis from work, Arnie makes Dennis stop, and discovers that it belongs to an old man named Roland LeBay, who sells Arnie the car for $250. Dennis, who doesn’t like the look of the car to start with, likes it even less when he sits inside it and has a frightening vision of the car and its surroundings as they were when it was new. Undaunted in his quest to restore the car, Arnie brings it to a do-it-yourself garage run by Will Darnell, who is suspected of using the garage as a front for smuggling. As Arnie works on the car, he becomes more and more withdrawn and cynical, but also more confident and self-assured. Christine, however, almost seems to be mysteriously repairing herself. LeBay eventually dies, and Dennis meets LeBay’s younger brother George, who fills him in on LeBay’s history of anger and violence and the back story of Christine: LeBay’s daughter died in the car from choking, while his wife committed suicide in the car through carbon monoxide poisioning. Dennis also observes that Arnie is becoming more and more like LeBay, and that the car is taking over more and more of Arnie’s life. With the advent of a girl named Leigh Cabot who begins dating Arnie and nearly dies in the car the same way that LeBay’s daughter did (leading to the relationship’s end when Leigh figures out that she is competing with the car for Arnie), and a number of car-related deaths around town that point to Christine but turn up no evidence, Dennis and Leigh, who are now lovers, eventually realize that Christine is possessed by LeBay’s spirit, and hatch a desperate plan to try to destroy Christine and save Arnie.

Many did not know what to make of Christine when it first came out, but it very quickly became a favorite book among King fans due to its strange juxtaposition of love story and spirit-possession horror. While there’s quite a build-up before the plot really thickens, it eventually pays off big, in such scenes as when Arnie, fully aware of Christine’s self-repairing abilities, pushes her through Darnell’s garage after bully Buddy Repperton and his gang have trashed her. In a thoroughly creepy scene, Christine regenerates: dents pop out, cracks in glass disappear, and paint damage disappears as if never there to begin with.

The eternal... quadrangle (?)
These scenes would eventually be realized in movie form. Hollywood had already come calling for King’s work, and producer Richard Kobritz , who previously produced the Salem’s Lot miniseries, had purchased the rights to Christine after King sent him a manuscript copy. Kobritz’s first choice for director was John Carpenter, who was initially not available, but delays on other projects freed him to work on Christine. According to Carpenter, he directed the film as a job rather than a personal project, and at the time he was still smarting from the critical backlash over his previous film, the now-classic The Thing (1982).  It may have been because of this disinterest that Carpenter altered one significant detail of the story: in the novel, Christine was possessed by the spirit of Roland LeBay, while in the film, the car’s evil manifested on the day it was built, as seen in the opening scene where two line workers fall prey to Christine as she rolls off the assembly line. Also, Roland LeBay does not appear in the film; instead, his brother George (who appears in the film to be as disagreeable as Roland, but somewhat milder; perhaps someone tried to combine both characters here) sells the car to Arnie.

She's a bad, bad girl...
Cast included Keith Gordon (who went on to appear in the 1986 Rodney Dangerfield vehicle Back To School) as Arnie, John Stockwell (who appeared in 1985’s sci-fi cult-classic My Science Project), Alexandra Paul as Leigh Cabot, and character actor Roberts Blossom as George LeBay, brother of the deceased Roland. Harry Dean Stanton appears as Detective Rudy Junkins, who tries unsuccessfully to pin Christine’s murders on Arnie, and William Ostrander appears as vengeful bully Buddy Repperton. A number of cars appeared as Christine, but few were actual Plymouth Furies due to the car’s small production number, and instead Plymouth Belvedere and Savoy models, dressed to look like a Fury, were used. The regeneration scenes, while not initially planned for the film, were shot in post-production at Carpenter’s decision. The film has since become a cult classic.

Christine remains a favorite among fans of King and Carpenter due to its demonstration of the human fascination with the American automobile and the romance surrounding it, something we are all privy to, and sometimes prey to. Even if a car isn’t possessed by a malevolent spirit, you still have to be careful. Because sometimes, without any warning, it might just turn on you.

Be sure to return for our next post for The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween. But in the meantime, be careful out on the road in the dark…

MAD DOCTOR’S NOTE: Christine (both film and book) are available for purchase on Amazon.com, and can be rented for streaming with Prime Video.

Special thanks to Rose Marie Machario, who suggested this post.

You better watch out, or she'll run you down...

FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE SERIES By John Rose

The Mad Doctor
"Now With No Added Jason"
Welcome back to The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween. Today in our Tales Of Unease we’re taking a look at Friday The 13th: The Series—not the movie series, but the TV series that ran in first-run syndication from 1987 to 1990. Though it has no connection to the Friday The 13th movies, FT13 The Series has a devoted fan following.

With series like Amazing Stories, Tales From The Darkside, and the 1980’s revival of The Twilight Zone, anthology series experienced a renaissance period during the '80’s. Producer Frank Mancuso, Jr., who had actually produced the Friday The 13th film series from FT13th Part 2 all the way to Jason Takes Manhattan, co-created the TV series with Larry B. Williams under the title of The 13th Hour.

Mancuso’s original intent was to utilize the idea of Friday The 13th itself, as a symbol of bad luck and curses. Interestingly enough, Mancuso had hoped to do this idea in the FT13 movies themselves, but like John Carpenter’s Halloween, the masked serial killer Jason Voorhees became so popular among moviegoers that he became the franchise, and the anthology film series idea was scrapped. While the creators desired to use Jason Voorhees’ trademark hockey mask in the TV series (a rumor surfaced that a planned ending for the show would involve a plot to retrieve Jason’s hockey mask itself), there was never any serious intention to tie FT13 The Series to the movies.  The creators eventually decided to call the series Friday The 13th because Mancuso believed it would better sell the show to networks.

The Un-Scooby Gang
FT13 The Series revolves around cousins-by-marriage Micki Foster (Louise Robey, who goes by “Robey” in the credits) and Ryan Dallion (John D. LeMay), who discover that they have inherited an antique shop originally owned by their uncle Lewis Vendredi (which means “Friday” in French), who died in a mysterious fire. The two decide not to keep the store and sell off most of its antiques before they are stopped by a former friend of Lewis’s, Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins), a former stage magician—and an occultist. The cousins then learn the awful truth: Vendredi had made a deal with Satan to be immortal and obtain wealth and power in exchange for selling the antiques, which are all cursed. With Jack’s help, the cousins must find and return each of the antiques to a vault located beneath the store, which is the only thing that can contain the antiques’ power. The spirit of Lewis (R. G. Armstrong) would occasionally
Evil Uncle Lewis being evil
return throughout the series to try to stop the cousins, making him the show’s recurring villain.

As in most anthology shows, the stories were a series of morality plays, with the cursed item featured as a McGuffin to move along the plot. However, there were also recurring story arcs with each of the main characters, and the nature of the show meant not only a hefty body count, but also that the continuous battle to recover the cursed antiques took its toll on Micki, Ryan and Jack as the series progressed. Ryan was eventually written out of the show after being transformed into a small child at the beginning of the third season; his replacement was Johnny Ventura (Steve Monarque) a “kid from the streets” who became an on-again-off-again love interest for Micki. The show was abruptly cancelled in 1990 without warning; the cast were informed while filming Season 3’s twentieth episode that the show was ending, and there was no chance to film more episodes, or even scenes for that episode, that would provide closure to the series.

You can't always trust a snow globe
Though some have decried its inconsistency in episodes, the show was a solid production and an interesting experiment, which has had an inspirational effect on other shows that came after it. The recovery of cursed relics to prevent evil is not an uncommon trope in horror, and it has turned up in series as diverse as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, Supernatural, and even The 13 Ghosts Of Scooby-Doo (whose entire plot revolved around a quest to retrap 13 evil ghosts who had been accidentally released from a cursed chest). The popular SyFy series Warehouse 13 has been called a virtual retread of this series by some, despite there being enough differences in the two to make up for it, but few can deny FT13’s influence on that series. Regardless of how you feel about it, FT13 The Series is very much a part of the TV-anthology horror landscape.

Be sure to return for our next installment of The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween. We can’t say you won’t have bad luck if you don’t, but you never know...

MAD DOCTOR'S NOTE: Friday The 13th: The Series is available for purchase on Amazon.com, both in individual-season and complete-series DVD sets. 

The (almost) last cursed item...

Thursday, October 17, 2019

WELCOME TO THE CREEPSHOW! By Harriet Von Lupin

Harriet Von Lupin
The poster
Hi there, horror gang! Looks like it’s time for Halloween again! This is Harriet Von Lupin, your raving reporter for The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween, and this year we’re doing something a little different—Tales Of Unease, talking about books, anthologies, and other stuff that brings a literary dimension to horror. Today we’ve got a doozy of a post, about a really cool movie brought to you by two of the biggest names in horror: Stephen King and George Romero’s Creepshow!

Back in the Sixties and Seventies, a movie studio called Amicus was doing anthology movies like The House That Dripped Blood, From Beyond The Grave, and Asylum, which were composed of a bunch of little short stories all hung together on a common theme. When King and Romero got together after trying to work out a movie of King’s novel The Stand, they hit on doing something original, and worked up an anthology picture of five different Stephen King stories, which King titled Creepshow. Just like me and Bethany—great minds think alike! (Darlings, Harriet isn’t really clear on how that works. --B. Ruthven)

Anyway, both King and Romero had been influenced by those old EC Comics from the 1950’s, like Tales From The Crypt and Vault Of Horror. (By the way, Amicus did those as films too!) Those comics had spooky hosts like the Crypt Keeper and the Old Witch, who told horror stories about bad people who got their comeuppance through supernatural means. (Boy, I’m getting better at these big words!) In his screenplay for Creepshow, King created a framing device with a little kid (Joe Hill, who’s King’s son!) who was being hassled by his mean dad (Tom Atkins) for reading a horror comic called Creepshow (natch!) whose host is The Creep. For the movie, Romero and King got one of the original EC artists, Jack Kamen, to draw all the fun comic book stuff and illustrations you see in the movie! (Super-cool!)

Ol' Nate's lookin' for cake!
The stories in Creepshow begin with “Father’s Day,” about a dead guy, Nathan Grantham (Jon Lormer), whose family all gathers for a Father’s Day dinner seven years after Grantham got bumped off by his own daughter (Viveca Lindfors) for killing his daughter’s fiance. When Bedelia goes to visit the grave, Grantham’s corpse comes back to life, because he wants his Father’s Day cake! (Don’t feel bad about what happens to Bedelia’s family, gang, because they’re all real jerks!)

Poor old Jordy Verrill
In the second story, “The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verrill,” King himself plays the title character (he’d already acted in Romero’s film Knightriders), a not-too-bright yokel-type who runs afoul of a meteor that lands in his back yard. Just like in those old ‘50s sci-fi films, green gook comes out of the meteor and starts growing, quickly turning Verrill and his farmhouse into an outer-space plant farm!

Verrill kinda doesn’t deserve what happens to him, even though you shouldn’t fool around with meteors. But the guy in the next story, “Something To Tide You Over,” kinda does. He’s this rich jerk named Richard Vickers (Leslie Nielsen) who’s got an unhappy wife named Becky (Gaylen Ross) who’s taken up with another guy, Harry Wentworth (Ted Danson), so he kills both of them by burying them in the sand on the beach, and watching them drown while the tide comes in on closed-circuit TV! But this is Creepshow, so it isn’t long before the drowned corpses of Becky and Harry come back to get their revenge!

What's that thing in "The Crate"??
But probably the best story in this movie is the next one, called “The Crate.” It’s about a university professor (Hal Holbrook) who finds a crate in a stairwell with a really hungry monster locked inside! (Hey, the crate came from the Antarctic, and it’s been under there for a long time, so you’d be hungry too if you had to wait that long!) However, the professor’s got a real jerk of a wife (Adrienne Barbeau) who stays drunk all the time and says mean things about him to other people, so he ends up being embarrassed a lot--even in front of the other professors at the university!  But after he finds the crate, it isn’t long before he’s figuring out a way to get rid of her—and feed the crate-critter a little snack as well!

The last one’s the creepiest story! It’s called “They’re Creeping Up On You,” and it’s about a mean old businessman named Upson Pratt (E.G. Marshall) who stays cooped up in his apartment all the time, and treats people like dirt, and absolutely hates bugs—so much that his apartment’s fixed up like an anti-bug fortress. But when there’s a city-wide blackout, where are all the cockroaches in the city going to hang out? Three guesses!

This film’s really cool, and it’s no wonder that it’s a Halloween favorite with a lot of people. There was a second movie, Creepshow 2, and Mad Doc talks about that one a little bit here. And there was a third film that kind of sucked, mainly because King and Romero weren’t involved at all! But if you guys are into this streaming TV thing, the Shudder channel is doing a Creepshow TV series that’s just come out! Hey, maybe we’ll get some more spooks and kooks from the Creep after all!

And so I’m done! But don’t forget to come back for the next installment of The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween, ‘cause we’re just getting started and there’s a lot more cool stuff coming! ‘Bye now!

Love,
Harriet Von Lupin

MAD DOCTOR’S NOTE: Creepshow (and its dorky but fun little brother Creepshow 2) are both available for purchase at Amazon, or for rental on Amazon Prime Video, while the new Creepshow series can be seen on Shudder.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

GOOSEBUMPS By Frankie Franken

Frankie Franken
R. L. Stine
Hello, everybody, and welcome to today’s installment of The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween! This year our theme is Tales Of Unease, where we look at horror in literature and writing, as well as film and TV.  And today we’re taking a look a something that may be familiar to some of you horror fans that grew up in the ‘90’s—Goosebumps, the horror book series for younger readers by R. L. Stine. Branching out into a television series and two movies, Goosebumps was the series that brought an entire generation to horror, and it’s still popular today!

Robert L. Stine grew up in Bexley, Ohio, and started writing at age nine when he found a typewriter in his attic, and started typing out stories and joke books. Graduating from Ohio State University in 1965, Stine edited the humor magazine The Sundial for three of his four years there, and later moved to New York to pursue a writing career. (Our Mad Doctor remembers a humor magazine for teenagers called Bananas, published by Scholastic Press, that Stine edited and wrote most of the material for.) In the Eighties, Stine co-created and was head scriptwriter for the Nickelodeon TV show Eureeka’s Castle, which won an Ace Award for best children’s program in 1990.

Such horrors await...
Stine also wrote the elder-teen horror series Fear Street, and due to its success, he was asked to develop a horror series for younger children. Getting the title from a TV station add in TV Guide, the first Goosebumps book was Welcome To Dead House, published in July of 1992. Though the series had been originally aimed at girls (and Grrls, presumably), both boys and girls loved the series, and Goosebumps took off. Stine would eventually write a total of 62 original Goosebumps stories, with many spin-off series following such as Tales To Give You Goosebumps, Give Yourself Goosebumps, and Goosebumps HorrorLand, spun off from One Day At HorrorLand in the original series.

The Goosebumps stories were written specifically for younger children, following child characters who found themselves in scary situations with supernatural elements such as vampires, ghosts, mummies, and other supernatural monsters. Stine says that he intended for the stories to be funny as well as scary, and never puts the kids in his books into situations that would be considered too serious. In all of the Goosebumps books, the main characters triumph over evil and use their own wits and imaginations to escape the monsters.

The popularity of the Goosebumps series brought about a children’s TV anthology series, also called Goosebumps, that aired on Fox Kids Network from 1995-98. Forty-three of the original stories were adapted as episodes for this series. Many of the familiar characters from the books, such as the HorrorLand Horrors, the Haunted Mask, the Monster Blood, the Headless Ghost, and Slappy the living ventriloquist’s dummy would appear in this series.

The 2015 movie
The legacy of Goosebumps is still loved today by adults who remember reading the books growing up, and by children who are introduced to it through libraries, school book clubs, and seeing episodes of the TV series. In 2015, a Goosebumps feature film was released, about a teenager (Dylan Minnette) who discovers that his next-door neighbor is not only the author R.L. Stine (Jack Black, appearing as a fictionalized version of Stine), but that all the monsters from Goosebumps are real, trapped in the books, and that Stine has been guarding the books to keep them from being unleashed. Of course, all the monsters get loose, and Stine and Zach must work together to save the town. A sequel, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, was released in 2018, with Jack Black once again appearing as R. L. Stine, in which two young boys again release the monsters of the Goosebumps series from an unpublished Stine manuscript called Haunted Halloween. Both would be great for a Halloween movie night, especially with young kids.

So that’s my installment, and here’s hoping you have a fun time, with lots of goosebumps of your own, this Halloween! Come back soon and see what we’ve got for our next post on the Thir13en For Halloween!

Sincerely,
Francesca “Frankie” Franken

MAD DOCTOR’S NOTE: The Goosebumps books in all their various permutations, and the Fear Street books (warning: not for younger kids) are available for purchase on Amazon, or probably for borrowing in your local library. The Goosebumps TV series is available for streaming at Netflix, and both Goosebumps movies are available at Amazon for purchase or rental (requires Amazon Prime).

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

BORIS KARLOFF'S THRILLER By John Rose

The Mad Doctor
Today on The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13een For Halloween, we are discussing Thriller. No, not the Michael Jackson album (although we know you drag it out around this time of year for Halloween parties), but instead, the greatest horror anthology show you never saw. Created for NBC Television by Hubbell Robinson and hosted by Boris Karloff, Thriller debuted in 1960 and ran for two seasons during a peak period for anthology shows.

Thriller title card
Beginning initially as a crime and suspense series in the mold of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller hit its stride in horror with its sixth episode, “The Purple Room,” featuring Rip Torn as the inheritor of a house and property with a condition: he must spend the night there and live in the house for a year, or his cousins (Richard Anderson and Patricia Barry) will inherit the property. And of course, the house has a little problem with ghosts...

The success of “The Purple Room” made the producers realize that audiences had more taste for gothic and supernatural horror than run-of-the-mill crime stories, and Thriller soon filled its plate with spook tales. Many of these were based on works by authors who were giants in the genre, including Edgar Allan Poe, Cornell Woolrich, Robert Bloch (who contributed a number of teleplays), Robert E. Howard (the episode “Pigeons From Hell” became the first televised adaptation of Howard’s story), August Derleth, and Twilight Zone alumni Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont. Its distinguished roster of “major players” included Leslie Nielsen, William Shatner (who starred to great effect in "The Hungry Glass" and "The Grim Reaper"), Mary Tyler Moore, Henry Daniell (a woefully underrated actor in the vein of Price and Karloff himself), Richard Chamberlain, Elisha Cook, Russell Johnson and Natalie Schafer (both of who would later be marooned on Gilligan’s Island), Marlo Thomas, Robert Vaughn, Marion Ross (who went on to Happy Days), George Kennedy, Cloris Leachman, Dick York and Elizabeth Montgomery (who went on to star in Bewitched), Tom Poston (Newhart) and Richard Carlson.

Filmed in black and white,
Thriller made the most of that medium: Alfred Hitchcock had already proved, both with the movie Psycho and his own series, that black-and-white film emphasized the gloomy settings, shadowy dread and horror of these stories better than color ever could. Thriller quickly became a must-see program during the 1960’s.

Our distinguished host
Karloff, who enjoyed his status as a horror star and had no problems moving into a small-screen medium, was the perfect host for Thriller. With his rich, sonorous voice and deadpan delivery, Karloff inserted himself into the beginning of each episode, introducing its title and “major players” and then would intone, “As sure as my name is Boris Karloff, this is a thriller!” Karloff also acted in five episodes of the series, perhaps his most morbid appearance being the title character in “The Incredible Doktor Markesan,” an August Derleth story about a mad doctor who has turned most of his rivals into zombies. Karloff also displayed a talent for black humor, and frequently appeared to enjoy his introductions, drawing the viewer into each episode. Though Thriller had made itself on horror stories, it still mixed some non-supernatural mystery tales into its oeuvre, and even created some humorous episodes such as “Masquerade” (based on a Robert Bloch tale, a honeymooning couple (Tom Poston and Elizabeth Montgomery) is temporarily detained at a “hotel” run by a group of deranged characters (among them John Carradine (!)) who may or may not be vampires).

The comic
Gold Key Comics published a comic-book version of Thriller, which went on to last until the very end of 1979; after Thriller itself went off the air, the series title was changed to Boris Karloff Tales Of Mystery. Some of these comics were republished in an archive series by Dark Horse Comics, beginning in 2009.

Though ratings for Thriller were still strong after the second season, complaints were raised about the violence and morbid tone of the series, and the producers battled constantly to keep the dark tone they were striving for. Thriller’s final death blow came when Alfred Hitchcock, who had just signed a deal with NBC to have a one-hour version of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, demanded that Thriller be canceled so there would be no confusion (or competition) with his show. NBC bowed to the clout of Hitchcock, and Thriller was cancelled after 2 seasons and 67 episodes.

However, no less a horror luminary than Stephen King declared Thriller to be “the best horror series ever put on TV” in his 1981 cultural overview of the genre, Danse Macabre. Thriller was never forgotten by those who had seen it, and its cult following eventually paved the way for a 14-disc DVD release of the entire series in 2010, containing all 67 uncut episodes with new commentary tracks and separate music tracks. Cable channel MeTV also added the show to its broadcast lineup, and episodes can also be found on YouTube. Most likely, Thriller will continue to be discovered and rediscovered by new and old horror fans in perpetuity.

Be sure to return soon for the next installment of The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween. Next time around, you may just get goosebumps…

MAD DOCTOR’S NOTE: For an extra Halloween treat, click the links throughout the post to see the episodes we mentioned on YouTube.

Monday, October 14, 2019

THE HISTORY OF ‘SALEM’S LOT By Bethany Ruthven

Bethany Ruthven
Good evening, darlings, and thank you for reading. Halloween time is here again, and welcome to The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween, where we are doing Tales Of Unease as our theme. Today I am examining an interesting vampire tale conceived by the world’s foremost horror author, Stephen King. The tale is ‘Salem’s Lot, and while it is certainly a vampire tale, its origins are actually from a short story, “Jerusalem’s Lot,” which was first published in King’s 1978 collection of short stories, Night Shift.

“Jerusalem’s Lot” is an epistolary tale, composed of letters and 
diary entries from one Charles Boone to an old friend, “Bones,” and the occasional narration from Boone’s manservant Calvin McCann. The tale describes the arrival of Boone and McCann to the neglected ancestral home of an estranged cousin, which is decried by local townsfolk as a “bad house” with a history of tragic events, mysterious disappearances, and strange noises attributed by Boone to “rats in the walls.” Obviously, anyone who has ever read a certain H.P. Lovecraft story knows that this won’t end well, but when Boone and McCann find an old map of a deserted village called Jerusalem’s Lot, which they decide to explore despite warnings from the townsfolk. Thus, the scene is set for the discovery of blasphemous Satanic rites, ancient tomes of evil, secret occult practices, family secrets, and of course the requisite nosferatu, or undead. The story was written by King while in college, but it did not see formal publication until after his second novel, ‘Salem’s Lot, was published, which is also set in the same town.

The book
The plot for ‘Salem’s Lot occurred to King while teaching a high school course on fantasy and science fiction at Hampden Academy in Maine. One of the books covered in the class was Dracula by Bram Stoker, and King wondered what would happen if Dracula returned to twentieth-century America. His wife suggested that Big D would probably get run over by a taxicab, but King kept mulling the idea over, and finally hit on a small-town setting for his story. The eventual novel was described by King himself as “Peyton Place meets Dracula,” but was successful, and was nominated for the World Fantasy Award in 1976, and the Locus Award for All-Time Best Fantasy Novel in 1987.

The story of the novel has Ben Mears, a writer who lived in Jerusalem’s Lot long ago, returning after a twenty-five-year absence. Mears has been haunted for most of his life by a bad experience he had in the Marsten House, an old house on a hill that overlooks the town, and was once the former home of Depression-era gangster Hubie Marsten. Ben has come back to ‘Salem’s Lot to write a book about the Marsten House, and hopes to stay in it, but discovers that the house had purchased by an Austrian immigrant named Kurt Barlow, who has arrived in the Lot to open an antiques store. Barlow, according to his business partner, Richard Straker (the only one of the two ever seen in public) is on an “extended buying trip.” Undaunted, Mears takes a room in a boarding house and begins work, striking up a friendship with high school teacher Matt Burke and a romance with Susan Norton, the town librarian.

Soon after Barlow “arrives,” a young boy named Ralphie Glick disappears, and Glick’s brother Danny dies, becoming the first vampire. Danny infects a number of locals in the town, including his own mother, but fails to infect Mark Petrie, a friend of the Glick boys who resists Danny with the aid of a plastic cross from a monster model kit (nice touch). Before long, Ben, Matt, Susan, and local doctor Jimmy Cody are all drawn into the battle against Barlow for ‘Salem’s Lot.


The 1979 mini-series
Warner Bros. acquired the rights to ‘Salem’s Lot and set about trying to turn it into a feature film, but after several false starts at a proper screenplay for King’s 400-page novel, the project was turned over to their Television division, and producer Richard Kobritz decided it would work much better as a television mini-series. After a screening of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, director Tobe Hooper was selected for the series, which came to television in 1979.

While the resulting miniseries is regarded as a classic of the genre, with wonderful performances by several luminaries including David Soul (Ben Mears), James Mason (Richard Straker), Lance Kerwin (Mark Petrie), Reggie Nalder (Kurt Barlow) and legendary character actor Geoffrey Lewis (Mike Rykerson), the minseries takes liberties with King’s work. Some characters have been combined or simply removed, and Barlow, rather than being perceived as human, is a bald, hissing Nosferatu vampire in the mold of Max Schreck, with Straker serving as a superhuman version of Renfield. Due to the series being shown on television, graphic depictions of blood or violence were abhorred, forcing Tobe Hooper to rely on atmosphere and mood, which actually works in the production’s favor.
Better than A Return To 'Salem's Lot, by far

In 1987, Larry Cohen directed a feature film called A Return To ‘Salem’s Lot, a “sequel” to the series  that is rightfully described as a godawful mess of a film, and my darlings, you are advised to avoid it at all costs. A better substitute is TNT Television’s 2004 miniseries adaptation of ‘Salem’s Lot, starring Rob Lowe as Ben Mears, Samantha Mathis as Susan, Donald Sutherland as Straker, and Rutger Hauer as Barlow. Though still not perfect, this adaptation has its merits and is closer to King’s original novel, and will do you just fine if you cannot find the original for your Halloween viewing.

And there we are. Do return to us soon for our next round of chilling horrors here at The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween, and if you hear a scratching at the window and something asking to be let in... just tape a cross to the glass. Then move the next day.

Regards,
Bethany Ruthven

MAD DOCTOR’S NOTE: All forms of ‘Salem’s Lot are available for purchase (or rental if you have Amazon Prime) here at Amazon. But do avoid A Return To ‘Salem’s Lot. Even our Monster Shop werewolf Towser won’t touch it.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

THE LEGACY OF SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK By Punkin Nightshade

Punkin Nightshade
Well, howdy! Looks like we’s all back together again for Halloween, and welcome to The MonsterGrrls’ 2019 Thir13en For Halloween. This here is Petronella Nightshade, what am Punkin, and this year we is talkin about some horror movies and TV and such what is related to books. We’s done some posts like that before, but this year Mr. John what’s our Mad Doctor wanted to do somethin different than old Frankenstein and Dracula, so we are talkin about some other kind of books and callin it all Tales Of Unease. And this right here does look like some uneasy stuff we are talkin about today, cause this here post is about some books called Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, what was collected by a feller named Alvin Schwartz, and had pictures drawn in them by a feller named Stephen Gammell.
The first edition covers

Folks has always told each other scary stories, ghost tales and that, round Halloween time. Somethin about the nights gettin longer and colder gets folks thinkin that way, and of course scary stories is all right for Halloween parties and such. The first Scary Stories book, what come out in 1981, was a bunch of old stories from folklore and them urban legend things that Mr. Schwartz had been huntin up. People had told each other them stories for years, but Mr. Schwartz had been a journalist at one time, and had started writin books. So like them journalists do, he did a whole bunch of researchin on the stories in the books afore he ever wrote a word, and he found that a lot of them stories was real old, had the same origins, and was told just about all over the place, in one way or another. Gorry, I can even remember hearin some of em at Coven gatherins down in Witchhazel Swamp. But Mr. Schwartz warn’t just gettin em from folklore. Some of these stories had come all the way down to us from folks like Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and Joel Chandler Harris.
From "The Haunted House"

Mr. Schwartz ended up writin  three of these books. The other two was called More Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark, and Scary Stories 3: More Tales To Chill Your Bones. The artist, what’s Mr. Gammell, did up pictures to go with the stories, and them was probly the scariest thing about the book. Like I said, just about everbody has read or heard the stories in the books, but it was Mr. Gammell’s artwork that turned them into somethin special. Mr. Gammell had won him a Caldecott Medal for doin watercolor pictures in another book called Song And Dance Man, but on these he didn’t use nothin but charcoal and ink. The way he done em made the stories downright frightenin, like you was just readin em for the first time.

From "Wonderful Sausage"
Once these books got out there, they just took off. People think that kids don’t like bein scared, but kids loved these books, and they was real popular. But there was a lot of parents out there that didn’t like em, and they thought Mr. Schwartz was a bad man for writin books that was scarin children. Probly the one they got the most upset about was Wonderful Sausage, in which a butcher gets mad at his wife one day and kills her, and then puts her down in the sausage grinder and makes some sausage out of her. And his customers end up likin that sausage, so of course he has got to find some more folks to make him some more sausage. I ain’t goin to tell you all of it, but it don’t end well nohow.

The thing was, though, the Scary Stories books was bein aimed at middle-school young’uns, and bigger kids like what I am, and they wasn’t never made for real little young’uns. Some learned folks said that there warn’t nothin wrong with em, and that they helped young’uns deal with stuff that really scared em by puttin a face on it, and that much is true. Most times a child ain’t gonna run into an old witch (well, not where y’all live, anyway), or some ghosts, or even some mad feller who’s stalkin around killin people. But children got real things they is scared of too that they can’t put a name or a face on, like growin up and not knowin what to do, or studyin real hard and not doin well on a test, or even somethin worse like their parents breakin up and the child is thinkin they done somethin to make it happen. And these stories was helpin them work that out in their heads.

But some folks is goin to meddle, just cause they can. And so it was that cause of the nature of them stories and the drawins in the books, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark got listed by the American Library Association as bein the most challenged series of books back in the 1990s, cause parents didn’t want their young’uns readin about murderin folk and disfigured folk and cannibal folk and so forth. Course a young’un can see just about all that on the television now and again, but they acted like readin about it was worse. However much, most folk agree that there ain’t nothin wrong with them books, and most libraries still has them on the shelves. And hearin that he was on a challenged-book list might well have tickled Mr. Schwartz, who passed in March of 1992, well afore folks started fussin about his books.


The movie poster
The Scary Stories books is still real popular, and folks is still buyin them, and young’uns is still enjoyin gettin scared by them. And so it is that just a little while ago there was a horror movie come out what was based on them books, called Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark. There has been horror movies before what was anthologies, or bunches of stories all told in the same film, but this one is not no anthology film. Scary Stories The Movie tells about three young’uns named Stella (what’s Zoe Colletti), Auggie (what’s Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (what’s Austin Zajur), what go explorin an old house what’s supposed to be haunted on Halloween. In that house they find them a secret room and an old book of horror stories which has been writ down by someone named Sarah Bellows, who used to live in that old house long ago. They take that book out with them and find that new stories are bein writ in that book without no kind of explanation, and that them stories are happenin to folks they know, and so they got to warn all them folk and find out just what is goin on. All kind of hooraw happens in this movie, and it looks like it is goin to be a crackerjack just like the books has been.

So that is all about that, and I am done here with this postin. Be sure you come back and see what else we got goin for this year’s Thir13en For Halloween, cause it is goin to be one thing and then another. Blessings be on you!

Sincerely,
Petronella “Punkin” Nightshade

MAD DOCTOR'S NOTE:  The entire Scary Stories series is available on Amazon and other fine booksellers, and most likely at your local library.  Check them out! 

Special thanks to Rose Marie Machario.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

INTO THE TWILIGHT ZONE By John Rose

The Mad Doctor
The dark time has come round again, and we bid you welcome to The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween 2019! This year our theme is Tales Of Unease, a look at horror literature and how it connects to film and television. Today we begin on a particularly auspicious note, because today, 60 years ago, was the premiere of one of the most well-known, emulated and longest-lasting anthology series on TV—Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone.

During the 1950’s, Rod Serling had made a career for himself as a prominent screenwriter in Hollywood, with successes such as Patterns for Kraft Television Theater and Requiem For a Heavyweight for Playhouse 90. But Serling was becoming increasingly frustrated with corporate censorship and sponsors who altered his scripts either to promote themselves or to avoid controversy. The most glaring example of this was the line “Got a match?” having to be struck from Requiem because its sponsor sold lighters.
Your next stop...

Deciding that a science-fiction setting with supernatural occurrences would give him less interference in exploring controversial subjects, he wrote a pilot pitch for his show, “The Time Element,” which was the story of a man who travels through time to 1941 Honolulu and tries to warn everyone of the impending attack on Pearl Harbor. The script was eventually produced as an episode of Desilu Playhouse, and the critical acclaim gave Serling the freedom to begin producing The Twilight Zone, which premiered on October 2, 1959, with “Where Is Everybody?”

 


You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead—your next stop, the Twilight Zone.”




Rod Serling
Although it is often classed as science fiction, The Twilight Zone is very definitely a supernatural series, often utilizing elements of horror and the paranormal. Each episode presented a stand-alone story in which characters found themselves dealing with unusual events, which was described as ‘entering the Twilight Zone.” Often, the show had a surprise ending and a moral. Many critics of the day wondered why Serling had given up writing scripts for more prestigious programs to write a sci-fi-horror series, but Serling knew exactly what he was doing. By couching his stories in a supernatural or science-fiction setting, Serling was free to-examine political and social mores of the day, knowing that they would be observed as metaphorical and therefore would escape censorship.

Many episodes of The Twilight Zone are now deemed as classic television, such as “Time Enough At Last,” “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street,” “Eye Of The Beholder,” “The Invaders,” and “To Serve Man.” Acclaimed writers Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont also contributed scripts, and famed sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury wrote the now-classic episode “I Sing The Body Electric” which became the basis for his short story of the same name. A wide variety of now-famous actors such as Burgess Meredith, Charles Bronson, William Shatner, Elizabeth Montgomery, Carol Burnett, Robert Duvall, Peter Falk, Jack Klugman, Robert Redford and Burt Reynolds all made appearances in episodes of The Twilight Zone.

Serling himself contributed most of the scripts, submitting a herculean 92 episodes over five years, and also began to appear at the opening and closing of each show. Though it was his idea to do this, Serling was very nervous in front of the camera, and reported of his appearances that “Only my laundress knows how frightened I really am.”
He's terrified--no, really...

In the Night Gallery
The original Twilight Zone series lasted for five seasons, and was an immediate hit in syndication, which introduced it to future generations. In 1969, Serling had moved on to serve as on-air host and major script contributor to Night Gallery, another anthology series set in a macabre art gallery which contained a larger focus on the supernatural. Though Night Gallery is fondly remembered and commands a fan base of its own, Serling, who died on June 28, 1975 of a heart attack, is best remembered for The Twilight Zone.


The show has been in continuous reruns, and was made into a feature film in 1983.  Twilight Zone: The Movie starred such luminaries as Albert Brooks, Dan Aykroyd (both Akyroyd and Brooks appear in a wrap-around segment that begins the movie), Vic Morrow, Burgess Meredith (who narrated the film), Scatman Crothers, Kathleen Quinlan, Kevin McCarthy (who appeared in the 1956 version of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers) and John Lithgow.

Due to the popularity of the TZ film, The Twilight Zone was revived in 1985 in a new series narrated by Charles Aidman, himself the star of two original TZ episodes. It was revived again in 2002 for one season, narrated by Forest Whittaker. Both series and the film are available on DVD. The series also inspired a popular dark ride at Disney theme parks, “The Twilight Zone Tower Of Terror,” which takes place in a fictional Hollywood Tower Hotel that is the site of several unexplained disappearances.

Peele crosses over
In 2019, Jordan Peele, who co-wrote and performed in the comedy series Key And Peele with Keegan-Michael Key and directed the Academy-Award-winning horror film Get Out, announced a new series of Twilight Zone for CBS All Access. In addition to executive-producing the new TZ series, Peele hosts the show and introduces the episodes. The series has received critical acclaim and been renewed for a second season.

The continued survival and popularity of The Twilight Zone can be considered a hallmark of what a commitment to exceptional writing and singular vision can do for television. Though the special effects in TZ have not always been successful, the true emphasis in TZ has been on using strange and unsettling tales to explore the human condition. It continues even today to influence and inspire other filmmakers and writers with an interest in the supernatural.

Don’t forget to return soon for our next installment of The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween! You might just find a gateway into another dimension...

Saturday, October 31, 2015

THE LEGACY OF VINCENT PRICE by John Rose

#1: The Mad Doctor
Well, here we are again, and Happy Halloween to all! For our final post on The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween, we will look at one of horror’s true Renaissance men, the great Vincent Price. Though he is known for his roles in horror films such as the Edgar Allan Poe cycle with Roger Corman, Price also appeared on stage, radio and television, was an art collector and arts consultant with a degree in art history, and was also a noted gourmet cook.

Vincent Price
Born on May 27, 1911 in St. Louis, Missouri, Price came from a notable family; his father was president of the National Candy Company, and his grandfather was Vincent Clarence Price, who invented the first cream-of-tartar-based baking powder, thus securing the family’s fortune. In 1933 he graduated with a degree in English and a minor in Art History from Yale University. He taught for a year and then entered the Courtald Institute of Art in London, where he intended to gain a master’s degree in fine arts, but found himself drawn to the theatre. First appearing on stage professionally in 1934, he began a full-scale acting career in 1935, performing with Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre.

Beginning in films as a character actor, he debuted in Service De Luxe (1938) and established himself in the film Laura (1944) with Gene Tierney, directed by Otto Preminger. His first venture into horror was the Boris Karloff film Tower Of London (1939). The following year, Price portrayed the title character in The Invisible Man Returns (1940), but then reunited with Tierney in Leave Her To Heaven (1945) and Dragonwyck (1946) and took a number of villainous roles in film-noir thrillers such as The Web (1947) and The Long Night (1947). From 1947 to 1951, Price was also active in radio, playing the role of Simon Templar in The Saint. In the 1950’s, he moved into more regular horror roles, playing the leading role in the classic House Of Wax (1953), which was the first 3-D film to hit the box-office top ten that year. He also appeared in The Fly (1958) and its sequel Return Of The Fly (1959). That same year, he also appeared in William Castle’s House On Haunted Hill and The Tingler.




Price as Egghead, a Batman rogue
In the 1960’s, Price hit his stride with horror, appearing in the now-classic Poe series directed by Roger Corman for American International Pictures. Beginning with the role of Roderick Usher in House Of Usher (1960), Price appeared in The Pit And The Pendulum (1961), Tales Of Terror (1962), The Comedy Of Terrors (1963), The Raven (1963), The Masque Of The Red Death (1964) and The Tomb Of Ligeia (1964). He also starred in The Last Man On Earth (1964), the first adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend, and portrayed witch hunter Matthew Hopkins in Witchfinder General (a.k.a. The Conqueror Worm, 1968). He also portrayed the comic villain Dr. Goldfoot in the spy spoof Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine (1965) and its sequel Dr. Goldfoot And The Girl Bombs (1966). On television, Price made guest-star appearances in many shows of the decade, such as his well-known portrayal of the villain Egghead in Batman, F Troop, Get Smart, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, sometimes playing a tongue-in-cheek “horror” role.

In the 1970’s, Price appeared in The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and its sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972), and also in
Theatre Of Blood (1973), portraying a Shakespearean actor who takes revenge on the critics who ruined his career. Another notable production from this period is An Evening Of Edgar Allan Poe, in which Price performed a one-man showcase of four Poe tales, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Sphinx, The Pit And The Pendulum and The Cask Of Amontillado. Price also recorded a number of dramatic readings of Poe stories and poems, and several records for the Caedmon label that included A Graveyard Of Ghost Tales, A Hornbook For Witches and A Coven Of Witches’ Tales. He was also seen on Canadian television as a narrator on the now-classic children’s show The Hilarious House Of Frightenstein.

Though Price is remembered as a horror star, he was also an art lover and collector. In 1957, Price and his second wife Mary Grant Price donated 90 pieces from their private collection and established the Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles College in Monterey Park, California. This became the first “teaching art collection” owned by a community college in the United States, and the Prices would ultimately donate some 2000 pieces to this collection. Seeing the importance of fine art being made accessible to the general public, Price also worked as an art consultant for Sears-Roebuck. From 1962 to 1971, Sears offered the “Vincent Price Collection Of Fine Art,” which included prints of works by Picasso, Rembrandt and Dali. Price was also an active gourmet cook, authoring several cookbooks with Mary Price. These included A Treasury Of Great Recipes, Mary And Vincent Price’s Come Into The Kitchen Cook Book, and Cooking Price-Wise With Vincent Price, which was also the title of a cooking show he hosted on Britain’s ITV/Thames Television network.


Price remained active in horror throughout the Eighties, narrating the 1982 Tim Burton short Vincent, and providing the now-famous spoken-word sequence on Michael Jackson’s 1982 hit single “Thriller.” In 1983, he appeared in the British horror spoof Bloodbath At The House Of Death, and worked in House Of The Long Shadows with John Carradine, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. From 1981 to 1989, Price regularly hosted the PBS television series Mystery! and in 1985, he was the voice of Vincent Van Ghoul in Hanna-Barbera’s The 13 Ghosts Of Scooby-Doo. In 1986, he was the voice of Professor Ratigan in Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective, one of his favorite roles. His last significant role was as the inventor in Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands (1990). During this time he was suffering from emphysema (Price was a lifelong smoker) and Parkinson’s disease, which also contributed to his retirement from Mystery in 1989. On October 25, 1993, Price died of lung cancer at UCLA Medical Center. He was 82.



Throughout his life, Vincent Price remained committed to a populist belief system, wanting to share art, fine cooking, and tales of mystery and horror with the general public rather than only a select audience. He was and still is an introduction for many people into the world of classic horror, and his life and career show a person who believed that the good things in life (and horror) were for everyone, regardless of their place in society. It is not for nothing that we at the Monster Shop refer to him with great affection as “Uncle Vinnie.”

And so we close this session of The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween. To paraphrase our Uncle Vinnie's ending Frightenstein monologue, the castle lights are growing dim, and there’s no one left but me… and them.

Happy Halloween, dear fiends...




 Happy Halloween From The MonsterGrrls!!